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Populism in Europe and Latin America: A Cross-Regional Perspective

Final Report Summary - POPEUAL (Populism in Europe and Latin America: A Cross-Regional Perspective)

The research project has investigated the ambivalent relationship between populism and democracy in Europe and Latin America. Particular emphasis has been given to the ways in which populist forces are not only challenging democratic institutions, but also promoting a specific political regime that is at odds with liberal and deliberative democracy.

The main results of the project are three. First, the project has developed a concept of populism that is useful for undertaking cross-regional research. By advancing a minimal definition of populism, the project has paved the wave for comparing cases of populism across the world. This is not a minor achievement, since there is on-going debate in the social sciences regarding the concept of populism, and in consequence, it is necessary to provide a clear conceptual approach that enables the realisation of comparative research.

Second, the project has analysed the similarities and differences between existing manifestations of populism in Europe, Latin American and the United States. Three contemporary cases have received special attention: populist radical right parties in Western Europe, leftist populist leaders and parties in Latin America, and the so-called “The Party Movement” in USA. One of the important findings of this analysis is that each of these populist manifestations offers a specific understanding of who belongs to “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite”. Moreover, the analysis also reveals that all these different manifestations of populism share a very specific understanding of how politics should function: given that the people is the sovereign, nothing should constrain its will. As a consequence, populist forces are against liberal democracy and favour the construction of a political regime driven by majoritarianism.

Third, the project has developed an innovative framework for studying the relationship between populism and democracy. Drawing on the work of Robert Dahl, the project has been able to show that current manifestations of populism are offering specific responses to two dilemmas that do not have a clear democratic solution: the boundary problem (how to define the people?) and the limits of self-government (how to control the controllers?). At the same time, the project has studied the way in which populist forces can have positive and negative effects on the processes of both democratization and de-democratization (see figure).

In terms of impact, the relevance of this project lies in its capacity to a) improve our understanding of the concept of populism and its different contemporary manifestations in Europe and the Americas, and b) provide new analytical tools for better understanding the ambivalent and complex relationship between populism and democracy. These results should be relevant, first and foremost to analysts interested in the rise of populist forces as well as policy advisors and makers that work in the field of democracy promotion. It is not a coincidence that the work produced by the researcher has proven to be useful for institutions such as the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Foundation for Law, Justice and Society and Policy Network.

Finally, it is worth indicating that the research fellow has been extremely productive in terms of publications. Just to give an overview, since he started the Marie Curie fellowship in August 2011 he has published one edited volume (co-authored with Cas Mudde) with Cambridge University Press, has worked on an additional edited volume (co-authored with Juan Pablo Luna) that has been accepted for publication by the Johns Hopkins University Press, has written three pieces that have been accepted for publication in the academic journals “Constellations”, “Government & Opposition” and “Political Studies”, has written two book chapters on populism (co-authored with Cas Mudde) that will appear in the Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies and the Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership respectively, and has also submitted two papers for review to the journals “South European Society and Politics” and “European Political Science review”.

The research fellow has moved to Santiago de Chile to take a job as an Associate Professor at the School of Political Science in the Universidad Diego Portales. His new email address is cristobal.rovira@udp.cl and his homepage is www.cristobalrovira.com. He will continue to work on this topic. In fact, he has started a new research project on populism in which he will explore three questions: a) how to deal with populists-in-government?; b) which concept and model of representation do populist forces advance?; and c) how to populist forces relate to constitutionalism?